5 Questions on China’s Air Defense Identification Zone

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5 Questions on China’s Air Defense Identification Zone

“What makes this situation so fraught with peril is the possibility of miscalculation.”

In The Diplomat’s continued coverage of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), earlier in the week Justin McDonnell discussed China’s recent moves with David M. Finkelstein vice president of the Center for Naval Analyses and director of CNA’s China Studies Division. Below is a transcript.

1.     What does Beijing hope to gain by establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that covers a large part of the East China Sea?

Over the past year, China has been engaged in various military and para-military activities aimed at keeping a physical presence in the vicinity of the disputed islands as a means of asserting its claims to sovereignty and as an attempt to pressure Japan into acknowledging that there is a dispute between Tokyo and Beijing over ownership.

2.     Are we seeing a China that is embarking on a bolder, more assertive foreign policy not only toward Japan but other countries as well?

China is certainly being assertive in its approach toward Japan and the dispute over the islands, the latest declaration of the ADIZ upping the ante considerably. Ironically, in late October 2013 Xi Jinping presided over an important internal work conference on foreign affairs that emphasized the need to create a more positive foreign policy and security environment on China’s periphery, linking this to Beijing’s ability to achieve some of its key domestic objectives. Clearly, such a work conference was necessitated by the diplomatic challenges to Beijing from some quarters in Southeast Asia resulting from China’s recent behavior in some of the maritime disputes in the south. Although smiles to the south are now the order of the day, on the issue of the East China Sea and Japan, Beijing seems to have drawn a line. This, the Chinese would adamantly argue, is the result of Japan changing the situation with the purchase of the islands in September 2012. Those arguments notwithstanding, the most recent move by Beijing is not helpful.

3.     What do you make of China’s ADIZ and its inclusion of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands as well as the waters off Jeju Island that South Korea claims as its own?

Although the Chinese announcement of the ADIZ reassured that it was not aimed at any country, it is very clear that Japan and the islands in dispute are at the center of this initiative. The fact that the PRC-declared ADIZ overlaps with that of South Korea quickly regionalizes the situation beyond Japan.

4.     The U.S. doesn’t take a position on who has sovereignty over the islands but recognizes they are administered under Japan. Is that still true given recent remarks by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel? What about the 1952 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty?

Nothing I read into the remarks of the Secretary would lead me to believe that the U.S.’s oft-stated position has changed.

5.     Given historical animosities and recent provocations, how do you see this unfolding? What are possible future trajectories and what role do you see the U.S. playing, if any, in mending frosty relations between the two neighbors?

The situation between China and Japan is serious. If a tit-for-tat dynamic between Beijing and Tokyo becomes the operative way of conducting business, things could get worse. There are domestic factors at play in both countries… that are difficult to fully understand; especially in the case of China. What makes this situation so fraught with peril is the possibility of miscalculation.

David M. Finkelstein is vice president of the Center for Naval Analyses and director of CNA’s China Studies Division. He is the author of the monograph From Abandonment to Salvation: Washington’s Taiwan Dilemma, 1949-50, and has co-edited a several volumes on Chinese security, including China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs: Recent Trends in the Operational Art of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Civil-Military Relations in Today’s China: Swimming in a New Sea.